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Gas prices hold steady

Retail gasoline prices mostly held steady over the last week, the Energy Department said Tuesday, as crude oil prices climbed slightly in light pre-holiday trading.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery climbed a modest 68 cents to $74.40 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced from a meeting in Angola that there would be no changes in their production levels.

At the pump, California’s average gasoline price rose for the first time in seven weeks, but by a mere 0.9 cents to $2.912 a gallon for regular. Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular fell a cent to $2.589.

Those stable prices come at a time when the American Automobile Assn. is projecting that holiday driving will spur the year’s biggest increase in gasoline use.

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The AAA said it expected 87.7 million Americans to get behind the wheel and drive 50 miles or more during the year-end holidays, a 3.8% increase over the 84.5 million who traveled during the same period a year ago.

But analysts discounted the possibility that the holidays were signaling an end to the weak demand for gasoline and the generally light feet that Americans have had on their gas pedals in 2009.

“January is the month when the holiday credit card bills come home to roost, and that will help keep demand for gasoline low,” said Tom Kloza, senior oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey. “Gasoline prices should be falling in January.”

ron.white@latimes.com

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